Shot selection

Basketball teams blessed with great offensive rebounders can take just about any shot, figuring one of the ball hawks under the boards will clean up anything that rims out. Tennessee's undersized Vols lack this luxury, which is why shot selection is especially critical for them.

For instance: Tennessee hit 50 percent (12 of 24) of its 3-point attempts in its best performance of the season, a stunning 95-78 upset of No. 6 Texas. Conversely, the Vols hit just 34.6 percent (9 of 26) from beyond the arc in their worst performance of the season, an 89-73 loss to Oklahoma State.

Sometimes the 3 is a good option for Coach Bruce Pearl's team. Sometimes it isn't.

"The game against Oklahoma State Coach preached to us that we took way too many 3s, and it hurt us," sophomore guard JaJuan Smith recalled recently. "When I was on the bench I heard the coaches say, ‘When we go to the post we're four (scores) for five (possessions).' "

The 3-pointer also betrayed Tennessee against Murray State and Lipscomb. The Vols hit just 6 of 20 tries (30 percent) in the former and needed a late rally to win 64-53. Tennessee was even worse against Lipscomb, sinking just 5 of 20 beyond the arc (25 percent) and eking out a 69-58 triumph.

Tennessee's best shooting performance of the season came last Tuesday against Alabama A&M, when the Vols hit 55.4 percent (36 of 65) from the floor. They drained 42.9 percent (9 of 21) from beyond the arc and got a dozen or so easy buckets in transition. When the transition and 3-point opportunities weren't readily available, however, Tennessee's players wisely set up their half-court offense.

"I don't think anyone forced anything," senior forward Stanley Asumnu said. "There were times that we threw it ahead and could've easily tried to drive and go."

When the numbers weren't in Tennessee's favor, however, the Vols recognized as much and didn't try to force the fast break. That type of disciplined decision-making will be vital once Southeastern Conference play starts on Jan. 8.

"We backed it out (several times) and tried to set up cutters and be patient," Asumnu noted. "That's what we've got to do when we play the big schools."

Until the Vols come up with some ball-hawking offensive rebounders, that's what they've got to do against the little schools, too.

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